Thursday, January 14, 2010

Get Thee to Greece, Twenty-something!

I just finished reading an amazing book. I read a lot of books and I'm not very picky about such things so I usually enjoy them. But it's rare to find a book that gives one the feeling that the writer is speaking directly to you, as if you are sitting across from each other in a coffee shop having a chat, and that (eerily) their experiences, hopes, dreams, fears and thoughts directly mirror your own.

This is how I felt reading Traveling With Pomegranates, a non-fiction story co-written by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. The story follows Ann and her mothers journeys together through Greece and France from 1998-2000. These were not only physical journeys for them, but also spiritual, both women being at a kind of crossroads in their lives - Sue, just turning fifty, entering menopause, and being faced with the inevitability of her own aging and death; Ann, fresh from college, rejected from graduate school and confused and disillusioned about the world and her place within it.

I have read Sue's books The Secret Life of Bees and the Mermaid Chair, and really enjoyed them, so her name is what first made me pick the book up (along with the dramatic, slightly haunting cover - I'm a very visual person) but once I read that this was a non-fiction travel-while-trying-to-figure-life-out story, I wanted to read it even more.

The main reason this story spoke to me is because of the close and complicated mother-daughter relationship at its centre. My mother and I have just such a relationship, and we also love to travel together, so I knew I could relate to it. Once I immersed myself into the story however, I began to hear the book speak to me, mainly through the passages written by Ann, as her struggle at that time is the struggle that I'm going through right now. I guess you could call it a "quarter-life crisis"; a kind of lost feeling in terms of who I am and what I'm meant to do. I have so many questions rolling around in my head concerning these issues that I can barely wrap my brain around them - like a jar full of frantic fireflies, chaotically darting all over with no set path, constantly bumping into each other and against the glass. At the time of her and her mother's travels, Ann was feeling this too. She was a few years younger than I am now, but the worries and questions are the same.

Through the travels that she and her mother take, and the impressions that these experiences leave her with, Ann slowly realizes her spiritual path - to become a writer. Even once she figures this out, the questions and insecurities still linger, mingled together with new ones, but a renewed sense of calm and purpose comes to her. I can only hope that with patience and travel on my part that I will find this too. Mainly it was nice to hear that I'm not alone, that she was in the same place and found her way.

I have tinkered here and there with the thought that I might be able to be a writer myself - this is something I've dabbled in my whole life, something I enjoy and feel good about my skills in, but have never really taken seriously. However, this introspective time in my life combined with the lessons learned about my inner self in the past year, have planted a seed in my brain. I still have millions of insecurities and a whole lot of trepidation inside regarding following this path but Ann's experience made me realize that some of this is normal, and sometimes, if you feel deep down that it's right, you just have to go for it. I'm certainly not going to turn around and publish a novel tomorrow, but it has inspired me to at least explore this side of me a bit further.

Aside from all of this philosophical and self-aborbed bull (from me, not the book), the book also made me want to go to Greece and France SO bad! Sue and Ann's beautiful words really capture the places they visited and were a pleasure to read. I love travel books except for the fact that they just make me want to go to all the places I read about, namely places that I don't have either the time OR money to visit (ironic, eh?).

PLEASE - anyone who is experiencing either a "quarter-life crisis" or a "mid-life crisis" - GO READ THIS BOOK! You may not have a spiritual breakthrough, but if nothing else the prose will make you smile and feel a little more secure about your life problems.

Oh, and the closing passage of the book contains my new favourite quote from Anais Nin, which I think is a great metaphor for one of the reasons I love writing: "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection". Happy travels :)


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Thank you so much for reading!